“Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings and magistrates and rulers, and for those who persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, so that your fruit may be evident among all people, so that you may be perfect in him”
-Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
Saint Polycarp was a companion of Saint Papias of Hierapolis (Παπίας) and frequent correspondent of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was disciple of Saint John the Evangelist and heard first hand stories of Christ from Saint John. It is believed he was born around 65 AD and in a testimony later in his life he stated that he served Christ for 86 years.
Saint Irenaeus wrote that Saint Polycarp:
"was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna."
And in his letter to Florinus, a student of Saint Polycarp, Saint Irenaeus also wrote:
I could tell you the place where the blessed Polycarp sat to preach the Word of God. It is yet present to my mind with what gravity he everywhere came in and went out; what was the sanctity of his deportment, the majesty of his countenance; and what were his holy exhortations to the people. I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.
Saint Polycarp lived during a critical and extremely important time for the early Church. His life spanned between the Apostles and the first generation without them physically on earth and his teachings helped holt the church strong in unity against several of the heresies that had already begun to spring up. In a letter he wrote to the Philippians, he warned the Church there that they must not surrender their faith and teachings to the rising tide of gnostic teachers.
"For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist, and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan."
Around 155 AD, Saint Polycarp was warned that Roman authorities were searching for him in their efforts to stop the Church from growing. Specifically, the Roman Empire hoped to stop the Catholic church's claim of Christ's authority above the Emperor. In hiding he began to spend long days and nights fully immersed in prayer, only to emerge one day to his companions, telling them "I must be burned alive". He explained he had a vision foretelling him this. A friend of Saint Polycarp was arrested and tortured before telling the authorities where Saint Polycarp could be found.
On that Saturday evening, men arrived at the home to arrest him and tried to persuade him to publicly proclaim that "Caesar is Lord". They attempted to convince him there was no harm in it and if he did, he would remain safe. Instead Saint Polycarp told them:
"I shall not do as you advise me,"
He was taken to the Arena where Christians were being killed by wild beasts in front of a large crowd. As he sat with his fellow Christians, waiting for their turn in the arena, he heard a loud voice come from heaven saying "Be Brave Polycarp".
Now in the arena and facing the crowd, the Roman government again gave him the opportunity to declare Caesar is Lord. This time today though, Saint Polycarp said with confidence:
"Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian, And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them. You threaten me with fire, which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. What are you waiting for? Bring forth what you will."
The crowds shouted for him to be fed to the lions, but the Roman Proconsul instead declared he should be burned at the stake. The Catholics at Smyrna wrote and testified to the events that followed in his martyrdom.
"We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp. "
As Saint Polycarp was placed on the pyre and tied to the stake, he said aloud
"May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice -- just as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled."
The fire was lite but instead of consuming Saint Polycarp, it instead form an arch around him. Inside the glowing arch, he appeared as gold or silver glowing in the furnace. The witnesses testified that they could smell a sweet smell coming out of the fire, as if frankincense had been placed among the pyre. The Roman authorities in a rage stabbed him to death with a spear. The testimony states:
"there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished."
It was there, on the arena, that Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr, died.